Defining Two-Deep Leadership

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

If you’ve seen or heard about the movie “Spotlight,” you know it’s about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe journalist team and its early-2000s expose of the clergy abuse cover-up in the Boston area and beyond. What it brings to the fore is the amount of unsupervised access that clergy had to children. Parents trusted church leaders who were interacting one-on-one with their children on a daily basis. No one was watching, no one was asking, and certainly no one was telling.

Today, church policies should be very clear about having no exceptions for this rule: one adult should not be alone with one child. This is for the protection of the child as well as the adult. Further, churches should establish a two-deep leadership policy. Two-deep leadership means that at least two adults are present in the room when children and youth are present.

Churches are responsible for ensuring that sufficient leadership is provided for all activities, no matter what the venue. In some cases, this may mean that an activity or a trip needs to be cancelled. However, it’s better to cancel an event than risk an abuse situation. Planning and communication are especially important to make this happen. If you have two leaders scheduled for an event, make sure there are parents in reserve to help when needed. Then, if a leader is late or cannot attend an event, you have a parent backup. Also, you have a backup in the case of an injury or medical situation.

What about caravans to out-of-town events? You may have two adults, two cars, and 10 youth. Each adult is driving a certain number of students, but is it still two-deep leadership? Yes, because the adults are part of the same unit, traveling to the same place.

Sadly, abuse can happen anywhere, even despite the best efforts of churches. However, we all must do everything that we can to minimize the chances: this means establishing clear policies for all people who work with children and youth, as well as screening and training of all clergy, staff, and volunteers.